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5 Shows like United State of Tara: Living a Double Life

Roxanne_Sancto_itcher_contributorShows like ‘United States of Tara’ introduce us to characters that may seem to have it together on the outside, but inside they’re a mess. Other shows focusing on eccentric characters with possible mental health issues include ‘Wilfred’ and ‘Ally McBeal’. ~ Roxanne Sancto

Balancing Work, Family and Several Personalities

As an outsider looking in on Tara’s (Toni Collette) family life, you wouldn’t think there was anything out of the ordinary. Tara is a loving suburban housewife who takes great pride in her children Kate (Brie Larson) and Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) and her sweet, supportive husband Max (John Corbett). But when she gets stressed, her mind seems to take on a life of her own.

Tara suffers from dissociative identity disorder which leads her to switch between alters in high stress situations. Her main alters are Alice, a fifties style housewife who is very religious and bossy and considers herself to be the real Tara; T is the sixteen year old version of Tara who loves busting a move on the ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ game, smokes pot and is extremely flirty and Buck, a foul‐mouthed man’s man who insists his penis was “blown off in the Vietnam War”. By the end of season one, we are introduced to further alters including Gimme, Chicken and Bryce.

As you can well imagine, Tara and her various personalities tend to overwhelm her family life and make it difficult for her to function on a normal level. But there are other mental disorders or at least certain peculiarities, that can have a challenging if not interesting effect on people’s lives. Here are a few TV series similar to ‘United States of Tara’ dealing with characters faced with similar double lives.


Shows Similar to ‘United States of Tara’…

‘Wilfred’ (FX, 2011)

Originally created by Adam Zwar and Jason Gann for the Australian audience, ‘Wilfred’ was picked up by the American broadcasting channel FX and stars Elijah Wood in the role of Ryan Newman, a depressed former lawyer on the brink of suicide.

Ryan has everything going for him. He has a great job, a big house and all the money he needs to support his favourite hobby: Smoking weed. But he’s not happy and so, one night, he decides to consume a concoction of drugs in the hopes of never waking up again. Fortunately, he does but his life is about to change forever…

When his neighbour Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) shows up at his door asking Ryan to take care of her dog Wilfred, he is baffled to see that the dog is in actual fact a man dressed in a dog’s costume. Upon seeing this, Ryan fears he may have lost the plot completely but seeing as he has a major crush on Jenna, he agrees to mutt‐sit anyway.

Turns out, Wilfred is pretty fun to hang out with. He likes taking several daily hits from the bong, eating junk food and playing with (or abusing) his friends Bear and Graffy. But he also has a dark side: He is the king of manipulation when it comes to Ryan and often gets him into sticky if not dangerous situations. Yet according to Wilfred, he only does these things in order to teach Ryan valuable lessons.

Ryan and Wilfred’s relationship goes through various stages and more often than not Ryan is determined to convince his brain that Wilfred is actually an illusion, but to no avail: The two share a solid bond that is difficult to break…

Similarity Match: 80%
It’s not entirely clear whether ‘Wilfred’ is just another part of Ryan’s personality or his imagination, but both Tara and Ryan are seemingly overwhelmed by their double‐lives.

‘Homeland’ (Showtime, 2011)

Being a CIA operations officer has got to take its toll on your sanity. Not being able to discuss problems at work with your family or spouse, constantly travelling and being sent out into the field on dangerous missions not knowing whether you’ll make it out alive – it’s far from your typical nine to five job.

Being a female CIA operations officer in an environment predominantly ruled by men, has got to be even harder; but to be a female CIA operations officer with bipolar disorder? Almost unthinkable. But that’s exactly what Carrie Mathison is – and she’s a fine CIA agent at that.

As long as Carrie takes her medication, she can keep her bipolar disorder in check but unfortunately regular intake isn’t always possible in her line of work. On top of that, she is exposed to high levels of stress working for Homeland security, which doesn’t really help her health at all. But she is strong and extremely stubborn and just like her colleague and mentor Saul (Mandy Patinkin), she will always put her job first.

Similarity Match: 75%
Just like Tara, Carrie Mathison juggles a home and working life with a mental disorder. But unlike Carrie, Tara’s job isn’t anywhere near as stressful and she has a great support system.

‘Skins’ (E4, 2007)

Skins’ was probably one of the best young adult dramas to have sprung from the UK in the 2000s. Father and son writing team Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, tapped into issues young adults face today in a realistic manner and really captured their respective attitudes.

The first two seasons of ‘Skins’ were probably the best, though the following seasons all had their own charm and excellent characters too. The first two seasons focus on a group of school friends made up of Tony (Nicholas Hoult) and his girlfriend Michelle (April Pearson), the chaotic Sid (Mike Bailey), the party animal Chris (Joe Dempsie), talented dancer Maxxie (Mitch Hewer) and his best friend Anwar (Dev Patel), the serious Jal (Larissa Wilson) and the strangely sweet Cassie (Hannah Murray).

Cassie is a dreamy young girl with a strong hunger for drugs and little to no interest in food. She’s very intelligent and caring but lacks in self‐esteem. Having just been released from a mental institution following a suicide attempt, she goes through great lengths to hide her anorexia from her friends and family.

Similarity Match: 60%
Tara and Cassie are in completely different stage in their lives and their mental health issues can’t be compared, but both face similar troubles in dealing with day to day life.


If You Like ‘United States of Tara’, You Will Like…

If you’re into shows with strong but complicated female lead characters, you will probably get hooked on these two in no time…

‘Girls’ (HBO, 2012)

If you find it easier to tap into the world of twenty‐something women than ‘Desperate Housewives’, Lena Dunham’s HBO series ‘Girls’ is just what you’re looking for. The show focuses on Hannah (Dunham) and her friends Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirk) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) making their way through life, New York and various relationships.

Hannah is a complete narcissist who likes to over‐analyse (herself) and tends to get herself into trouble with being entirely too forward. But there’s something deeper luring behind her complicated personality: She has a severe OCD disorder which drags her down for the entirety of season two.

Her boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver) and her friend Jess deal with addictive personalities. Whereas Adam is determined to fight his addiction and goes to regular meetings, Jessa isn’t quite ready to admit she has a problem.

Hannah’s OCD is only explored in one season whereas ‘United States of Tara’ is focused entirely on Tara’s mental disorder. But both depict the shame and fear that comes with such disorders in an authentic manner.

‘Ally McBeal’ (Fox, 1997)

As far as legal TV series go, ‘Ally McBeal’ has got to be one of the wackiest. It seems like none of the lawyers working at Cage & Fish can be considered normal, but Ally (Calista Flockhart) and John Cage (Peter MacNicol) are definitely the weirdest of the bunch. This is probably a good time to mention that you will either love Ally and all her little quirks or you will hate her for her constant whining.

Let’s start with Ally. Ally is in her late twenties, broody and desperately searching for the one. She lives with her room‐mate Renée (Lisa Nicole Carson) and sleeps with a male blow‐up doll on lonely nights. She regularly has spells where she has hallucinations of dancing babies or Al Green and she always hears music in her head, the songs changing according to the situation.

Her “soul‐mate” John is often referred to as “the funny little man”, especially by his partner Richard (Greg Germann) and Ling (Lucy Liu). I prefer to think of him as special. John is fascinated by frogs, traumatised by toilet remnants and he can only make love to a woman when he pretends to be Barry White.

Before you even think about it – no, Ally and John don’t end up together. But maybe they should have.

John and Ally both visit therapists but I’m not sure their fantasy worlds can be construed as mental disorders, although it does affect their (working)lives, the way Tara’s dissociative identity disorder does hers.


Living with Our Inner Demons

We all have our demons, but not all of us are as open about them as Hannah Horvath. I supposed that’s exactly the reason why we feel so drawn to TV series like ‘United States of Tara’ or even ‘Ally McBeal’. They help us understand that it’s OK to accept our eccentricities or mental health issues and that there is no shame in sharing our problems or reaching out for help.

Which troubled TV characters inspire you to embrace your weirdness instead of hiding it?

My name is Roxanne Sancto and I’ll be writing all things music, book and movie related for itcher mag. I also write for New Heroes & Pioneers’ upcoming Festival and Culture magazines, to be launched in the spring of 2014. I am the co-author of The Pink Boots and am currently working on two new novels. I love music, literature, cinema, crafting, yoga and animals.
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